Krysten Blackstone |
There has been a lot of talk lately about women in academia. Even here on Pubs and Pubs we had a post about it by Roseanna recently. For those who did not get a chance to read it, it was inspired by a student making the assumption that women do not study conflict, or if they do, that it is odd. (Spoiler alert: we do and it is perfectly normal, thank you.) Roseanna’s blog, in response to her student’s misconception details the importance of having positive female role models and discusses some experiences that combat these assumptions. The message in the blog is important – that women can study whatever they please. However, I think it is equally important to recognize not only can women study whatever they desire, they do.
Last weekend I attended a conference at the National Army Museum in London, called 5×15 Talks: Women in Military History. To give you some background to the event, all you need to know is that it started on twitter. Ten years ago the idea that an academic conference was envisioned on something like twitter would be inconceivable. Today however, I am sure you didn’t even bat an eyelid.
‘Female academics are under-represented across the board, but particularly in military history topics.’
This statement, found in the description of the event, summarizes specifically why women were being highlighted. The point of the afternoon was very much to shed a light not only on the idea that women can study war, but that, in fact, quite a lot of them already do. The afternoon was split into two segments, with five speakers in each. Specific research pertaining to war was highlighted in the first half, while the second half focused on the experiences of women in military history and all that may entail. Although though the speakers were all women, the audience was not. Speakers and audience members alike represented a diverse spectrum of experience, subjects, nationalities and positions.
While the day was overwhelmingly positive, it was also rife with examples of people not quite understanding why we study what we do. Indeed, not long ago I was asked to present at a workshop because the series, which is dominated by female speakers needed a ‘masculine’ topic, even if it was still a woman speaking. Of course this is the reverse of the normal perception, but an issue nevertheless. In response to this, I offer a simple sentiment: our choices in our field of study are not dictated by our gender, but by our person and our interests. The lack of seemingly appropriate chromosomes does not disqualify us from being interested in conflict, or areas related to it, any more than it insists we should only focus on issues within a ‘feminine’ sphere.
This event at the National Army Museum was undoubtedly unique and specific, however it is characteristic of a broader trend. Similar mediums also exist which strive to support and encourage women in academia. The event’s largest strength was that it highlighted these networks and individuals who actively engage in the academic community and seek to be fully inclusive. By way of conclusion, I would like to offer a sentiment by the last speaker of the day, which summarized the purpose of the event perfectly, and indeed the strive of women throughout academia – whether they study conflict or not. When questioned about her scholarship, which was focused on medicine during war, she often was asked what a nice girl like her was doing studying something not so nice. Her consistent and unwavering response, is that her ultimate aim is not for her work to be nice, and nor should we expect that of her. The goal was, and will remain, to produce rigorous and insightful scholarship. May it be the aspiration of us all.
Krysten Blackstone is a first year PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, and a Pubs and Publications Committee Member. Her research focuses on morale and identity in the soldiers of the Continental Army during the American Revolution. You can find her on twitter.
Image 1: Wikipedia, Image 2: Pixabay, Image 3: Wikimedia Commons